Classrooms in high schools and elementary schools are embracing technology more and more as time passes. That being said, some do not yet have whiteboards, projectors and video conferencing equipment. However, all the schools do have one thing — a computer. As of 2008, it is estimated that 100% “of [public] schools [in the United States] have instructional computers with Internet Access.” In fact, the “ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access” is 3:1 (Educational Technology in U.S. Public Schools: Fall 2008, USDE, April 2010, p. 4). With these statistics, it is safe to say that technology is in the classroom. Nevertheless, it is not just about getting the technology into the classroom. It’s about how it is being used.
When looking at combining education and new technologies, such as games, with younger students, it is good to know that most have used a computer to complete homework. Furthermore, 18% of gamers are under 18 years of age (2011 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry, Entertainment Software Association, 7 June 2011, p. 2). This means that, while there are a lot of adult gamers, there is still a large portion of players in elementary and high school.
Combining both the classroom and games is a perfect fit. Parents think so as well with 68% believing that “game play provides mental stimulation or education.” Also, 57% of parents “believe game play helps the family spend time together” and 54% “believe game play helps [children] connect with friends” (2011 Essential Facts, 5).
This means that games are not only a means of gaining knowledge, but also a medium for social integration of friends and family. Educational games not only connect with an audience that is already playing games but it also connects with technology that is already in the classroom. Furthermore, students will still be able to learn with games in the classroom as well as outside the classroom. By using a portable gaming system, they can use educational games in the car or on the couch.
Educational games can also be social. For example, by adding an online board of activities everyone has completed, teachers can create a social atmosphere. There are plenty of ways that games allow for interaction, and it would not be surprising to hear students talk at recess about “What happens next?” if the game has a story line.
Parents can also become a part of the student’s social gaming life. A surprising statistic is that “91% of the time parents are present at the time games are purchased or rented” (2011 Essential Facts, 5). This shows that parents do have an interest in the games their children play and possibly even play with them. An education game allows for great family interaction with parents either playing along with their children or sitting with them in front of a computer screen. Parent and child no longer need to share the same piece of paper when they can share the whole computer.
Educational games are not yet fully integrated into classrooms, but there are plenty of educational games available. The Nintendo DS (which is a handheld gaming system) offers plenty of educational games for children: I Spy, Scribblenauts, Brain Age and Brain Training. However, the cost of a Nintendo DS may be a bit too high to have a 1:1 ratio inside the classroom. However, that is just one device. Ideally, educational games would take advantage of the computers that are already in the classrooms. This would mean no extra cost for the school. Furthermore, there are many websites that offer Flash Games that are also educational. A quick internet search with the terms “educational flash games” brings up many pages of very good gaming websites. Even the BBC has a page dedicated to online learning games.
More and more schools are adopting laptops, and soon the ratio of 3:1 will lower. However, this is not to say that students should spend all their time on the computer playing educational games. These games should only be used as tools. Teaching the basics of mathematics might work best by using big numbers on the chalkboard or whiteboard. However, once the students know the basics, tools should be available to help them take that basic knowledge further. Classrooms are getting more “techy” as time goes on, which is simply mirroring the real world. Certain technology can definitely be seen as a distraction, but that is not to say that all technology is a hindrance. Learning through games and bringing games inside the classroom is a great step forward to social learning and, more importantly, effective and fun learning.